observed by Diane » photo journal for those who enjoy vignettes of an ordinary life

Posting Photos Online

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{This will be much longer than most of my posts, due to the nature of the subject. I must also warn that this was written with my own personal views and, as you’ll discover, I have some strong opinions on this topic.}

As soon as we post a photo online, it’s out there, a sitting duck for anyone who may wish to do so, to come and grab a copy of it and use it for who-knows-what purpose. It happens and it happens more on certain sites than others. This is particularly important to be aware of if we are posting photos of children and you can guess why that is. In this digital world photos are easily manipulated in ways that I will leave to your imagination. I wrote a post earlier this year about protecting your online images and, if you haven’t read it, that may be an ideal starting point in realizing how often & easy it is to steal other people’s photos. You’ll notice that in the past year or more all the photos I upload either have my watermark or have the copyright © symbol attached (Notice how big and almost obnoxious it is? That’s intentional). This doesn’t necessarily stop someone from stealing it but it makes more work for someone who might be wanting the photo. I also have the right click disabled although people can still take screen shots if they really want to grab a photo. Even though this is totally illegal and against all copyright laws, people do this kind of thing everyday. I’ve already gone slightly off track. Let’s talk about posting photos of children online, specifically about posting them at public photo sharing sites such as Flickr.
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I admit that I did post a few photos of children on my Flickr account. I never used to but earlier this year I began to think it couldn’t be that bad. Each time (and that was only 5 or 6 total photos) I did not add tags and was very careful about the title I attached. Why, you wonder? Because those creeps out there who are looking for photos of children to put on their website, to manipulate the photos in ways that are disgusting, search using the keywords many people put in their tags: child, children, baby, toddler, kids, bath time, girl, boy, and so on. Those creeps also go to public sites such as Flickr, in particular, because there are thousands of photos of children posted free for the taking, many of which are tagged. They can find them anyway even if they’re not tagged but they have to work a bit harder to get around that — but they do. When they go to Flickr, for example, they also head straight to the Groups where thousands of images in one subject area (kids, women, babies, etc.) exist and make it so easy to pick and choose whatever they want.  The reason I have pointed out Flickr is because it’s a known ‘playground’ for these people who steal photos for any purpose but that includes weirdos who want photos of children. They also know that there are public places (such as Flickr) where the pickings are easy and plentiful so they tend to go for the easy fishing holes. After all, why head out into the big wide ocean (or Internet) when you know there are these great spots where there are so many fish you can actually pick and choose?

So, if you’re going to stick with using a public photo sharing site, there are ways to make it less easy (notice I didn’t say hard) to access photos of your children. You can change your settings (but this is NOT foolproof) so the images are not public but only available to friends or family. It’s really important to leave titles blank or not to use titles that say things like “Timmy in the tub” or “Baby Brenda bare on the rug” — you get the idea. Avoid tagging the images especially with some of the words/phrases I mentioned earlier in this post. Don’t post images in Groups at Flickr. Check every single person who “follows you” or becomes “a contact”: if they don’t have images, block them; if they have questionable images, block them. Don’t post images of children posed in adult-like poses. I have seen two different ‘photographers’ on Flickr who have posted photos of children (theirs, I think) and they have them posed in seductive Hollywood-like poses — I’m talking toddlers and elementary aged children. It’s disgusting in my view but talk about tempting the weirdos. Or, you can do as I’ve done and remove every single photo of a child from Flickr.

Is there a safe online place? No. But if you’d like to have a way of sharing your children’s photos, why don’t you simply email a few to grandparents, aunts & uncles, or friends? Or better yet, mail a few prints to them. Consider avoiding these sites altogether and burn photos to CD and mail it to family & friends. If you really, really want to have an online spot for your child’s photos there are places that are less dense in terms of numbers and that require password protection. That is likely what I would suggest as an alternative to the public photo sharing sites. For anyone who has a Mac for instance, you can use the online gallery (MobileMe) with the password protection turned on (again, don’t tag them) and make the url available only to grandparents, relatives, and close friends. Also, change that password from time to time; don’t use the same one all the time. Password protection is a help but it definitely is NOT foolproof either. If you don’t have a Mac then seek out a place where you at least have the password protection for people to view the photos such as FamiPix, but there are others out there. (By the way my personal view is that I am adamantly against the use of Facebook for photos of any kind. But that’s a long topic all by itself.)

One quick note about blogs. If you post photos of your children on your blog, be sure you are (daily) checking your comments and those who are linking to you. Get savvy in realizing that many of these creeps attach themselves to blogs by saying things like “Love your site” “what great information” “I’ll come back” and other smarmy, flattering things. Many are spelled incorrectly, some aren’t using proper English (though some do), many use women’s names (that are surely false btw), but they are a bad kind of spam. Many of them are ‘feeder’ blogs (linking to you and linking to ___ ). Get rid of them! I have visited some of your blogs and have seen these in your comments; I’ve even given a hint in my comments, so hope the hint was caught. Be careful because this sort of spam is for sites that don’t respect children, if you understand what I mean. Don’t be flattered — that’s what they are counting on; check them out, thoroughly.

So now, some of you are wondering about why I post photos of children here on my photo journal. I’m not alone and you’ll find that nearly all photographers who photograph children and families, do post those images on their websites and blogs. These are harder to find for those weirdos out there because they go where the fishing is thick and easy. Would they or could they grab a photo from a photographer’s site? They could, but ours are harder to locate in terms of tags but also harder to capture (unless they do screen shots). It’s so much easier for them to head to those public places where they can pick and choose and help themselves so easily, I doubt they head off into deep water much at all. And then they have to get rid of the watermarks and so on … it’s so much easier to head to their favourite fishing hole (Flickr and Facebook public pages).

There’s more to discuss about this topic but I hope this gives people food for thought. Feel free to share these thoughts with others or to send the url of this post to others. Get a discussion going. Consider safer ways to share photos of your children. I think a lot of grandparents, in particular, would prefer to get actual snapshots of their grandchildren in the mail rather than those online glimpses. {Yes, I practice what I preach: although I do email a few photos to family, I regularly have images of the grandkids printed and send them in the mail! Who doesn’t love to receive mail?}

Recommended Resource:

“How Safe are Photo-Sharing Websites?” this addresses another important aspect of safety ( I recommend printing this article out and sharing the url with others so they can do the same. )

UPDATE (July 2010) FYI: The same principle now applies to posting photos on Facebook. Those same creeps who have been using the thick pool of photos-in-one-place for stealing photos of kids, babies, or women are now doing the exact same thing with Facebook. That is why I deleted my Facebook business page earlier this year and now only have a personal page for friends-only (and I have NO photos posted there either).

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Marcie - August 14, 2009 - 1:35 pm

First – you’ve gotta know – I LOVE your portraits of your sweet pups.
Second – and in response to keeping photos secure and private – I think it’s a topic full of all sorts of problems and questions. Another problem that has come up for me – is finding my pix on someone else’s website. Altho I’ve never seen it happen where credit wasn’t given..I do think common courtesy would be to simply ‘ask’ before ‘taking.
Have been thinking a lot about the subject..as well..

Gayle - August 14, 2009 - 1:55 pm

Thank you, Diane. This is such important information. I am going to link to this post at my site. Can you tell me, how do you disable the right-click on photos?

Toni - August 14, 2009 - 5:59 pm

Excellent post, Diane. This is a topic close to my heart. I even contacted someone at SS to discuss the possibility of a post after seeing someone submit a photo to the SS pool of their children playing in the sprinklers, sans clothing. It was a fun and adorable photo, but there was absolutely no protection to keep the photo from being found, from the title to the tags. It was like putting a sign out for all the p-philes out there. After working in corrections for six years, I learned more than I care to learn.

Candace - August 14, 2009 - 7:09 pm

I’m not a real people photographer so i don’t think I even have any pics of children; well, maybe some relatives from a few years back.

All good advice here. I heard on a radio show that some cameras now and more in the future will have a gps device and the coordinates can come out in the EXIF data. Now that’s scary…for kids and everyone. How would you like to have a photo of your house posted, unaware that anyone that looks at the EXIF data can find out exactly where it is? Or where that kid lives, etc.

Right now, when you look at the data on photos posted on Flickr, you can find out a lot about a photo…what camera was used, whether the flash was fired, etc. Strange world.

sherri - August 14, 2009 - 10:15 pm

First, let me say again how beautiful your dog is. Such a good portrait. I scanned through your post (twice:-). I’ve had images and in one case an entire web site “misappropriated” (I was informed by an attorney not to use the word “stolen, theft, etc”), but stick with misappropriated. I spoke with several local attorneys and with a copyright attorney in NYC who told me nothing would be done. However, I don’t give up easily so I went to the business of the web design company that ripped me off and in the theft of a photograph I called the head attorney of Cendant and asked her how much they were going to pay me for the image. After everything was said and done, the web site came down in the one case and the photograph came down from the web site where it had been placed. Nobody paid damages which at that time could have been $120,000.00 per item and nobody apologized. An apology would have been an admission of guilt. I try not to think about it.
– signed – the ostrich:-)

sherri - August 14, 2009 - 10:17 pm

all those wordy words and I forgot to say, “if you put it on the web, assume someone has misappropriated it”

[…] of posting children’s photos online, especially on photo sharing sites such as flickr.  Worth a read and the photo of her dog is […]

Se'Lah - August 17, 2009 - 7:30 am

Thanks so much for voicing your opinion on this subject. I am very cognizant of the individuals who roam the internet with no good purpose in mind. In that vein, I do as you have suggested, email personal photos of my child directly to the intended recipients or mail photos. I don’t even put them on web-sharing sites.

Kudos to you for this post.

Steve - August 24, 2009 - 1:17 pm

Love that blue eyed dog!

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